Explore the Lunar Surface with MoonZoo


The Zooniverse, the people behind GalaxyZoo has released its latest pro­ject, MoonZoo. They’re ask­ing the pub­lic to help them map craters on the sur­face of the Moon using new images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The inter­face is simple and nifty as they show below.

I liked the idea of GalaxyZoo. It’s pro­duced sev­eral papers already so it’s clearly a pro­duct­ive tool as well as a great way for the pub­lic to get involved. The real­ity was slightly dif­fer­ent for me as I was never sure I was doing it right. That shouldn’t be a prob­lem, the sig­nal comes from many people check­ing the same pho­tos rather than just one per­son. Still, when I saw an example photo of a spiral galaxy, and I couldn’t see the spiral, I decided I was prob­ably con­trib­ut­ing more noise than sig­nal. What I like about MoonZoo is the guide at the bot­tom show­ing what the light­ing does to the image. I can see images where I’ve no idea if the things I’m look­ing at are craters or hills. The guide at the bot­tom resolves that prob­lem and then tar­get­ting craters becomes simple. My res­ults won’t be per­fect, I’ve not got an eye for boulders, but I can see how even by pos­i­tion­ing crater mark­ers I can help con­trib­ute to the accur­acy of the project.

It’s not some­thing I’d want to do for hours on end, but as a way to clear the mind in a few minutes or wind down at the end of the day it’s fun and it helps someone else.

Monkey business on Mars reveals something nifty


I went to Skeptics in the Pub last week at Nottingham to hear a talk by Doug Ellison on the explor­a­tion of Mars. One of the sub­jects that came up was the Gorilla. The Sun recently repor­ted that a Mars rover had found evid­ence of a Silverback gor­illa while ram­bling across the dusty and arid plains of Mars. ‘Enthusiast Nigel Cooper — who has stud­ied thou­sands of pho­tos taken by Nasa rovers and pos­ted online — said: “It’s def­in­itely a creature of some sort.“

I’m rub­bish at debunk­ing this kind of thing. Basically I get as far as a lack of bana­nas and rain forest before yawn­ing. If someone ser­i­ously thinks that the gov­ern­ments of the world are con­spir­ing to hide the exist­ence of a lone, and pre­sum­ably very hungry, gor­illa then they have more urgent prob­lems than a lack of basic bio­logy or geo­logy. What is it that makes a global con­spir­acy to hide evid­ence of an advanced civil­isa­tion on Mars, with pyr­am­ids, faces and anom­al­ous gor­il­las plaus­ible? Unambiguous evid­ence of life on Mars would be a key to the vaults of any gov­ern­ment with a space pro­gramme, so why would sci­ent­ists hide that? You’re not going to answer that ques­tion by con­firm­ing that what we have is a rock. Still, that’s what Doug Ellison did with the video below. What makes it worth watch­ing isn’t the con­clu­sion but how he got there.

The tool he used in the video is the Midnight Mars Browser, which you can down­load on Windows or Mac for free. I didn’t know about this. It’s a tool that takes the pho­tos from Spirit and Opportunity and dis­plays them as vir­tual pan­or­a­mas. You can fol­low in the tracks of your favour­ite rover. The gor­illa might be dull, it’s a rock, but the tool for examin­ing it looks bril­liant. This is why the talk was so com­pel­ling. There’s masses of inform­a­tion about Mars you can access. You can even fol­low the (delayed) blog of a Mars rover driver at Mars and Me if you want the back­seat driver experience.

It’s an example of debunk­ing done well. I doubt that he’ll have con­ver­ted any die-hards, because simply examin­ing the evid­ence isn’t going to address their under­ly­ing prob­lems. For every­one else he’s not only shown that it’s a not a gor­illa, he’s also shown the way to more inter­est­ing places that can take our under­stand­ing of Mars fur­ther. The rest of the talk showed sim­ilar insights into the equip­ment on Mars and how you can use the data com­ing from there. As for the rest of the solar sys­tem, he runs a forum where you can find out more at unmanned​space​flight​.com.

Happy Birthday Ariane


I missed this, the ESA put out the video on their YouTube chan­nel before Christmas, but if I keep quiet about that maybe no one will notice. Ariane is now 30 years old.

ESA cel­eb­rates 30 years of Ariane.

The first Ariane launched from Kourou in French Guiana on Christmas Eve 1979. The Kourou site sounds like a con­veni­ent a trop­ical jungle remote from ESA headquar­ters. However, as Alice Gorman has found, not every­one finds it exot­ic­ally dis­tant.

Ariane could also be con­sidered an American suc­cess story too. The reason the French and Germans needed to build it was that Richard Nixon pre­ven­ted the com­mer­cial use of European satel­lites launched on US Delta rock­ets. That forced Europe into build­ing its own inde­pend­ent rocket which now it one of the most com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful launch­ers. You can read more about Ariane on Jonathan Amos’s blog Spaceman, which I’ve just dis­covered, or more about Kourou on Alice Gorman’s blog Space Age Archaeology.

Does British investment in astronauts match the nation’s ambition?

The British invest­ment in ESA’s astro­naut pro­gramme. Photo (cc) Stuart Pilbrow.

Becoming an astro­naut is the pin­nacle of achieve­ment for any­one involved in space sci­ence and technology.

So, after the selec­tion of Major Time Peake as the UK’s new ESA astro­naut, how ser­i­ous are the gov­ern­ment of reach­ing the pin­nacle of acheive­ment? “No addi­tional funds would be made avail­able to help pay for the costs of Major Peake’s train­ing, Science Minister Lord Drayson said.” While the UK’s Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills is happy to asso­ci­ate them­selves with Tim Peake’s suc­cess and say they’re invest­ing in our future, the British invest­ment in astro­naut­ics will cur­rently remain €0.
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Curry Night and Space Heritage


Excavation of a Monolith at Clavius Base
Excavation of a Monolith at Tycho

Britblog Round UpAnother advant­age of being in Leicester is that you don’t know who is going to drop in. On Friday it was John Campbell from JCU Cairns. He’s been work­ing with Alice Gorman on the Space Heritage prob­lem since WAC 5. Perhaps the biggest prob­lem is get­ting people to recog­nise there’s a space her­it­age prob­lem.

He’s a nice guy, if a little intim­id­at­ing as he seems at home talk­ing about any sub­ject. Conversation skipped from extremo­philes to the last gla­ci­ation and hunter / gatherer strategies. Along the way we talked about Mir.

Imagine we could find the spot where Columbus first stepped onto Hispaniola, or where the Vikings first landed in the new world. Now ima­gine it was decided to des­troy. Say, the beach was to be scooped out and made into a har­bour for yup­pies. Would this be a prob­lem? Mir, John says, is a sim­ilar place. It was the first suc­cess­ful long-term space sta­tion. It wasn’t just used by the USSR, it also hos­ted Americans and peoples from other nations. It was the place where ser­i­ous inter­na­tional coöper­a­tion in space began. And it doesn’t exist any­more because it was crashed into the Pacific, some­where between New Zealand and South America. A his­toric place has been des­troyed more effect­ively than the Taliban des­troyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan.

The Russians did recog­nise the import­ance of the sta­tion and did appeal for help to boost it to a higher orbit to pre­serve the site, but no-one else was inter­ested. Without the funds from a safety point of view crash-landing was the only feas­ible option.

John also poin­ted out that Tranquility Base meets more or less every cri­terion of being a world her­it­age site, except for being on this world. His opin­ion is that the foot­prints there are equal in import­ance to the foot­prints at Laetoli.

It’s inter­est­ing that in this case the future has arrived. 2001 might not have bought robots in every home, or cheap space­flight to moon bases. However, extra-terrestrial archae­ology is an issue.

The cultural landscape of interplanetary space


History Carnival ButtonI’ve been sent this art­icle writ­ten by Alice Gorman in February’s edi­tion of the Journal of Social Archaeology after find­ing it men­tioned on Raw Harvest. As will become appar­ent below, I know very little about Australia des­pite work­ing with some Australian archae­olo­gists. I remem­ber while dig­ging in Luxembourg Matthew, an Australian archae­olo­gist on hol­i­day, was explain­ing the rolling her­it­age act which pro­tec­ted any­thing older than fifty years in Australia. This caused amuse­ment when we worked out that in a few years archae­olo­gists would be attempt­ing to recon­struct early Elvis records, pos­sibly even exper­i­ment­ing with white jump suits as they dug. We couldn’t see the point of excav­at­ing a build­ing when you could walk down to the coun­cil offices and pick up the plans. Space Archaeology should be an even big­ger gold­mine of knee-jerk put-downs. Why bother study­ing the Saturn V rock­ets when you can just go down to Cape Canaveral and pick up the plans?

Since then my atti­tudes to the dif­fer­ences between his­tory and archae­ology have changed. Archaeology isn’t just about writ­ing his­tory without using texts. Archaeologists often ask dif­fer­ent ques­tions of the past to Historians. Dr Gorman’s paper is an excel­lent example of the value of con­tem­por­ary archae­ology.
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